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Sunset Park residents move toward agreement with Industry City

SUNSET PARK — With the clock ticking on the public review process of Industry City’s rezoning, a group of residents and community organizations in Sunset Park are exploring the viability of a contract with the developers. The agreement seeks to ensure that Industry City — or any future landlord of the industrial complex — improves living conditions in the neighborhood for years to come.

A legally binding community benefits agreement was one of several conditions that Councilmember Carlos Menchaca said had to be in place in order for him to support the massive expansion.

The local politician said he will not take part in negotiating terms of the CBA, but his influence in the land use process provides significant leverage in getting a deal done. He wields outsize power in the rezoning battle because the City Council has the final say on whether to approve or kill land use applications. Councilmembers normally vote in line with the representative whose district is affected.

The contract would need to be completed by June 2020 when the City Council votes.

Though a coalition has not yet officially been formed, the group is tentatively calling itself the “Sunset Park Benefits Coalition.” It is made up of residents and local organizations like Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the Sunset Park Business Improvement District and the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation

“A CBA allows us to impact the future of the Industry City campus, hold its property owners accountable and advance planning for the longer term, but it’s important to note that we’re not yet a coalition,” said Ben Margolis, executive director of SBIDC. “We’re stakeholders who are interested in forming a coalition to then explore a CBA.”

The group initially identified three main issues plaguing the community that they hope an agreement will address, including housing instability, a loss of manufacturing jobs and underemployment. Margolis stressed, however, that a final list of terms has not been created and negotiations have not yet started.

“First, we believe the ownership group should contribute directly to our neighborhood’s challenges, and a contract allows us to negotiate these contributions and hold them legally accountable,” the group said in a letter introducing itself.

“Second, the contract would bind any future owner of the complex, which means that if Industry City Associates one day sells their property, that new ownership group would be bound by the terms of the contract.”

Low-income communities, like some in Sunset Park, are most vulnerable to climate change, according to activists. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane
Sunset Park. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The group had a preliminary meeting on Nov. 17 and it plans to have another on Dec. 5. Margolis said the biggest takeaway from the initial gathering was that members of the community were interested in finding middle ground.

“There are seemingly more residents and representatives of organizations in Sunset Park that believe an all out ‘yes’ or an all out ‘no’ might be problematic for them,” he said. “They’re really wanting to explore doing the hard work and figuring out the plan of engagement necessary and it certainly seems worth exploring.”

Saying “no” to the rezoning, for example, would not prevent Industry City from converting existing manufacturing space into non-manufacturing uses like offices, restaurants and retail.

The ad hoc steering committee consists of several Community Board 7 members, including chairperson Caesar Zuniga, but they cannot represent CB7 in an official capacity.

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball is on the board of directors of SBIDC, but Margolis told the Brooklyn Eagle that Kimball removed himself from any discussions regarding the rezoning.

“For the past year plus, in agreement with the rest of the board, he’s been recused, meaning he is not physically in the room during any discussion or voting regarding Industry City or the rezoning proposal,” Margolis said. “And that will be the case as long as there is an active proposal out there.”

Another takeaway from the group’s first meeting was that a CBA is not a “done deal.”

“To be clear, exploring and negotiating a CBA does not commit us to move forward,” the coalition said in its letter. “If negotiated terms inadequately address community concerns, the coalition can decide to walk away — and if there is no signed CBA, the councilmember has said he will vote ‘no’ on Industry City Associates’ application if it comes before the City Council.”

Industry City’s rezoning application seeks a $1 billion redevelopment that would add roughly 1.3 million square feet of space to the complex by 2027.

CB7 is currently reviewing the land use application. It has 60 days to assess it, before providing an advisory decision on Jan. 6.

CB7 is holding a public hearing on the land-use application on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. at the Grand Prospect Hall (263 Prospect Ave.).

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